01 You can also do overt non-participant observation, for example, when researchers sit in on meetings or workshops on site, but do not actively participate. See also the textbox in #TISDD called Overt vs. covert research in 5.1.3.
In contrast to participant observation, researchers take a more distant role in non-participant approaches and do not interact with the research subjects; they behave like a “fly on the wall.”  Research subjects are often customers, employees, or other stakeholders, observed in situations that are relevant to the research question, such as using or providing a service or product, whether physical or digital. Often, non-participant observation is used to level out researcher biases in other methods and to reveal differences between what people say and what they actually do.
Non-participant observation can be overt or covert. Overt means that research subjects know that researchers are present, but they do not interact with each other – for example, when a researcher joins employees for meetings without interfering at all. This can be combined with other methods, like in-depth interviews to debrief afterwards and learn the different perspectives and hidden agendas of people attending the meeting. Overt non-participant observation can be biased through the observer effect, when people change or seek to improve an aspect of their behavior just because they are aware of being observed. Covert non-participant observation refers to observing research subjects without them knowing that they are being observed at all. Sometimes researchers pretend to be customers or passers-by, or even use one-way mirrors, for example. Covert non-participant observation minimizes the risk of people being affected by the presence of a researcher. Setting aside potential ethical concerns, it is also often the method of choice if people are unwilling to participate in your research.
During non-participant observations, it is important to observe not only what people are doing (for example, by interpreting their body language and gestures), but also what people are not doing (perhaps ignoring instructions or refraining from asking for help or assistance). Depending on the country and organization you’re working with, do not forget to check what kind of legal, ethical, and confidentiality agreements you need in advance and which forms of data you are allowed to collect, particularly in covert non-participant observations. Avoid taking photos or videos of strangers without their consent. If you cannot take photos or videos, use sketching or reconstruct the situation with a colleague afterwards to capture the situational context.